A Search for the Brands of Beer Most Likely to Land You in the E.R.

Four malt liquors accounted for nearly half of all alcohol-related emergency-room patients in Baltimore.

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Malt liquor may not be the most popular of beers overall, but it probably won’t surprise you that the high-alcohol beverage has come out on top with drinkers who land in the E.R. According to a new pilot study in Baltimore conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins, four brands of malt liquors accounted for nearly half of the beer consumption by emergency-room patients, even though the beverage accounts for just 2.4 percent of general beer drinking in the United States.

In the small study of 105 individuals, the top five brands consumed most often were Budweiser, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice, and Bud Light; except for Bud Light, every other brand was significantly overrepresented in the E.R. when compared with its share of the national beer market. (Steel Reserve, Colt 45, and Bud Ice are all malt liquors; King Cobra was the fourth-place malt liquor, but it was not one of the top five overall brands.)

According to lead author David Jernigan, the idea behind the study was to see if there was any correlation between types and brands of alcohol with injury, in order to inform public health policy on the taxation and availability of products. Jernigan’s ongoing work has focused on unearthing data on alcohol brand preferences, what he calls the “missing link” in the relationship between alcohol advertising and youth drinking. He says that this study proves that this kind of data can be collected, though it’s too early to draw any concrete conclusions.

It has long been difficult to collect information on how marketing might affect the way a product is consumed, or if it increases risky behavior. In addition to the geography and distribution of marketing, packaging size also likely has something to do with the findings: malt liquor is often sold in "forties," those jumbo 40-ounce glass bottles familiar to many college-age drinkers (the standard beer-bottle size is the 12-ounce longneck).

Since this preliminary study was conducted at one hospital in a particular area of Baltimore, Jernigan notes that his findings may well be specific to the city; he and his team hope to expand the study to sample populations across multiple cities and hospitals.

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